Monday, December 5, 2011

There's been a discussion

"There's been a discussion..."

When I look online for a family, I often find lengthy exchanges of information on genealogy forums. While I wouldn't cite any of these as a source, it seems to me the nature of the conversation is informative, not to mention the individuals in it. In a recent report I said that there had been a discussion of the family online and it might be useful at a later stage to contact some of the contributors.

This is something I haven't seen done before. (That happens to me all the time.) In a reasonably exhaustive search, wouldn't a forum exchange be a legitimate item on the list of clues, if not in the bibliography? Here are some of the ideas that I think would be relevant.

  • If the discussion includes a potential family member, that's an obvious clue to follow up.
  • A known author on the subject of the family is a useful source.
  • Family traditions are always clues, no matter where they come from.
  • A spirited argument tells me the question is still up in the air, or at least it was in 2000, which is the vintage of a great many forum dialogues.
  • If someone comments on many related forums, they tell a great deal about the nature of the information they provide.
  • The more recent the comment, the more likely the person is an active researcher, perhaps even a cousin.
The burst of  interest in online genealogy between about 1996 and 2002 provided a wealth of data, both reliable and questionable. The pattern since then ranges from I have 6000 names in my database to I've seen this in original documents. I live near the archives so I scanned them and sometimes even Here they are. It seems to me that between the extremes there are a lot of useful clues and some actual information, often including conversations about the quality of the data.

Genealogy experts always say we have to get as near to primary sources as we can, and of course that's true. But the path we take to get there might as well include a serious look at earlier pathfinders online.

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